Live in Love by Laura Akins

Live in Love was a book I found on NetGalley and instantly wanted to read because I love Thomas Rhett, the country singer for those that are not familiar. Several of his songs are like soundtracks to my life and I love that. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this whole family. After reading this I truly feel like I could head to Nashville and have dinner with the Akins family like we’ve been friends forever. I borrowed the audio version from my local library and OMG that made the book. I borrowed the audio so I could catch up on NetGalley reads while getting some stuff done, you know accomplishing those new year goals. I didn’t realize that Laura read the book herself and I was so shocked when Thomas Rhett started telling his side of the story. I really think that’s what made reading this book a whole experience, like a few friends sitting around telling our life stories.

I was so inspired by their love and love for others and how much they embraced everyone around them. There was a part of me, the military wife part, that felt some of Laura’s struggles. When she talked about Thomas Rhett being on the road while she was back with kids and the resentment that came with that or when Laura wanted to follow her dream of nursing in a foreign country which meant living apart for awhile, they supported each other and knew sometimes following dreams takes the biggest sacrifices.

I found the format of the book easy to follow, even the part where Thomas Rhett told his part. I LOVED that Laura included pictures of the stories she told and the people in her life, just another way the reader felt brought into “family”.

Thank you Laura and Thomas Rhett for sharing your story and inspiring me to Live in Love. Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Perfect Guest by Emma Rous

The Perfect Guest by Emma Rous was my first blog tour and NetGalley read of 2021 and also my first Emma Rous book. I want to start with a thank you to Penguin Random House and the publicity team there for letting me join.

Within the first chapter I had major Companion vibes…the orphan coming to live with a family that has a little girl in need of a friend. But then oh man did it take a different turn. Readers are bounced between 1988 and 2019, between Beth Soames and Sadie Langton and told the story of a teenager and women that are both not sure where they belong in the world and what to do next when things don’t work out the way they imagined. They are both brought to Raven Hall and both discovered they had a story to tell about the mansion, but what do these two ladies have in common other than a visit to Raven Hall?

I did struggle with keeping the characters straight, especially in Beth’s point of view because the characters were involved in a murder mystery through the length of the book so I got lost on what “character” in the mystery lined up with the real characters. Although 75% of the book was a back story which bugged me while reading it, the way the author brought it all together in the end was so beautifully written. I LOVE when there is a big aha moment in book and I have to think “oh now it all makes since.”

I rated this a 3 on Goodreads but that was mostly because of the confusion and maybe another reader would not have that issue at all. However, I really enjoyed The Perfect Guest and will definitely read The Au Pair also by Emma Rous.

Thank you again to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr

My first book of 2021! I had to start it with Robyn Carr. I discovered her thanks to the Netflix adaptation of Virgin River actually but it turned out I already owned a few of her books from the free section at the library, I’ve since collected over 20!! Anyway, to kick off what is going to be a fantastic year in reading I started with The Life She Wants. I really love the multiple series from Robyn Carr but The Life She Wants is a stand alone so sadly the story ends on the last page…unless maybe it doesn’t?

Robyn Carr is one of my favorite authors and one of the reasons for this is the undertone of the romance novel but with substance, by that I mean the other themes that course through her books are well researched and become a vital piece of the story line. Each novel always weaves family with romance and a minor theme of redemption.

In The Life She Wants we follow the story of Emma Shay Compton as she rebuilds her life after a nasty and public divorce from her thief of a husband. Emma returns to her home town after leaving to pursue college and a new life. While Emma was finding herself away from her less than great home life she is betrayed by her lifelong best friend and her boyfriend, Riley and Jock, when Riley becomes pregnant with Jock’s baby. Emma wasn’t excite to return to her childhood area and face the people of her past with the mess of a life she now carried. Finding a job, a place to live, and out run a reputation was hard to do with very few people on her side and very little money. While working a job fit for a teenager she runs into Riley’s brother who becomes an ally and the person that helps Emma rebuild her life.

Emma is always a victim, from being the step child and shunned child in her pieced together family, in her past life with Riley and Jock but also with her husband and the life that turned out to be but despite that she manages to hold her head up and continue forward and that perseverance is what allows her to let people in, drop walls and eventually find the life she desired. Sometimes we have to jump through some really crappy hoops to get to the perfect finish line.

The one character I really struggled with is Riley. I truly wanted to reach through the pages and strangle her!! She was holding a grudge that wasn’t hers to hold and consistently stood in her own way. Yes she got pregnant by her short term boyfriend that she didn’t love but then she shut him out and played the martyr card when she could have had a beautiful co-parenting relationship with Jock. Once she got over that ridiculous grudge she found and accepted love that was always there ..waiting for her to open her heart

While it was a little obvious who would end up with who in the end the story was a still fun to read and engaging. I would have liked to see a little more of Riley and Emma rebuilding their friendship but just knowing there was resolve will have to do.

I gave The Life She Wanted 4 stars, but honestly Robyn Carr could write the phone book and I would give it a 4, her words are just my favorite!

The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker

I was so excited to take part in the The Christmas Swap read-along with One More Chapter, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. This was my first read-along with OMC and it was so fun and interactive. Having so many people posting and reading along with me, including Sandy Barker! OMC encouraged us with book discussion question, photo prompts, and trivia but my favorite part was the live with Sandy.

Think about the movie “The Holiday” but on steroids. Other reviewers have said this was a “hug of a book”, “like a cup of Christmas tea by a cozy fire” and I couldn’t agree more. Readers are taken to Melborne, Australia, Oxfordshire, England and Denver, Colorado when 3 friends that met when their families were on vacation in Maui when the friends were children, swap where they spend their holiday.

Chloe, from Melbourne, is bummed that her parents decided to travel for holiday so she travels to Oxfordshire, England and spends time with Jules’ parents. She also ends up meeting the boy next door that happens to be someone she already knew existed.

Jules who desired a white Christmas decides to travel to Denver, Colorado where she learns a lot about herself and builds self confidence by navigating Lucy’s loud and opinionated family.

Lucy who wants to spend some time in a warm, exotic location sets off to spend Orphan’s Christmas with Chloe’s friends, including a wine maker that changes the path Lucy is headed.

All three girls discover so much about themselves when they were out of their normal element and able to look at what they really want out of life and learn to understand their friends in a deeper way. I fell so in love with these girls and their stories but maybe even more with those beautiful locales. I was able to picture myself in each place by the beautiful writing as Sandy spilled her heart onto the pages for us to enjoy. The Christmas Swap was a delightful story and everything I look for in a Christmas story.

I gave this 5 stars and would have given more if I could.

Thank you One More Chapter, Sandy Barker and Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

It’s a Wonderful Wife by Camille Pagen

I found this gem after listening to a Christmas interview series with Uplit Reads on Instagram. I’ve had an Audible account for a while but I’ve just really discovered the Audible Orginals that are included in the membership.

It’s A Wonderful Wife was a modern take on the classic It’s A wonderful Life. Bailey the center of a family and town wide business finds her self at the brink of a metal breakdown when she discovers several things in her life are going horribly wrong. After a few drinks at the local bar she finds herself in the apartment of a friend from the past to sleep it off. As she drifts off to sleep Bailey says she wishes she’d never been born. Bailey wakes up the next morning to a world that doesn’t know her, to a life in which she’d never been born. She realizes through while navigating this alternate universe that her priorities may not be in line with the life she wanted and desired to live. When it’s time for Bailey to wake up in her real life she has a new outlook and a will to change her priorities and focus on what is truly important to her.

This was my first read by Camille Pagan but I look forward to reading more! I gave this 4 stars as it was the perfect story for a 2020 Christmas.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

Do you believe in love at first sight? Have you ever made eye contact with someone and knew they would be important in your life? What if you fell in love at first sight, lost sight and looked for a year only to see that person walk into your apartment as your best friends new boyfriend? This is what happened to Laurie on a double decker bus one December day, then one year later. Laurie takes the road she thinks is safest for everyone and keeps the fact that Sarah’s boyfriend Jack is her long last “bus boy” to herself, even after Jack and Laurie become very close friends. One Day in December follows this unique three way friendship over several years where they each have to face choices and come to cross roads that could let out the truth and destroy the life Laurie has built around this secret.

A few chapters in I was so angry that fate would lead Laurie and Jack back together in such a complicated way, but Josie Silver develops a beautiful story out of that crazy start. Friendship is important and is a definite theme through the book, but can friendship outweigh love and should it? What I really loved when it was all over is how realistic yet comforting and light this read was. Jack and Laurie could have ended up together from the beginning and that would have been a great story but the meat of a relationship comes in the trouble of finding out who you really love, who that person is when choices need to be made, when other people’s feelings are at play. Well done Josie!

Thank you to Netgalley, Josie Silver, Crown Publishing and Ballentine Books for the Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab was November’s Read Rover book club pick and at first I was a little like…guys what is this, but I ended up giving it 4 stars. The beginning was a little slow and I was afraid this might be my first DNF of 2020 but I’m not a quitter and I can’t be the one at book club that hasn’t finished, thus I finished. I kind of love it. I kind of didn’t love the ending though.

What would you give up to not have the life chosen for you? Would you trade a life time of misery for an eternal life of being forgotten? When you can finally make yourself a memory for someone would you make a trade to secure that memory? These are all questions Addie had to face and she seemed to make them without thinking through the actual terms of the agreements. She let the darkness control her desires by giving her what she couldn’t obtain herself, but at great cost.

When at the alter faced with a marriage that felt like eternal hell Addie makes a Faustian pact with the darkness to trade her soul and live forever to escape the life in front of her. The terms of the agreement meant that no one would remember her and no memories of her could be written, spoken or brought back, not even her name. Fast forward 300 years to a book store in New York city where Addie meets a young man and meets him again the next day and he remembers her. What is different about this guy from literally everyone else she’s encountered in 300 years. Is there a hole in the pact or does love break it? Is he also cursed in some way that counteracts her curse? Regardless of why he can remember her, he does and Addie can fall in love, think about a future until the darkness comes to call…again.

This is my first read by V.E. Schwab as it’s not my typical genre, which is why I love book clubs so much! The plot was a little overwhelming and easy to get lost in but the writing was beautiful. I didn’t love the scenes with Luc, the darkness but I feel like they were necessary to explain Addie’s relationship with him and the control he had over her. This was one where my dislikes easily out weighed my likes.

Our book club discussion was fire! There were so many opinions and take aways. I’m so grateful I was forced from my comfort zone to find this gem. I gave this book 4 stars.

Peace by Becky Thompson

Becky Thompson has been a staple in my growth and Bible study in the last few years. I found Becky on Instagram and learned she had written a few books and had a ministry that spoke right to my heart at all the right times. Becky’s most recent book Peace was my favorite so far. I have suffered from an anxiety disorder most of my life and found myself feeling so alone as a Christian woman that I could not overcome this weakness. Through Peace I learned that I am not alone and that I am broken by our fallen world, not by my actions or lack of faith in God. Through the analogy of the woman lost in the forest looking to be saved Becky walks the reader through the steps of leaning into God, obedience and those willing to help to walk out of the forest. Each chapter ends with a prayer and a journal prompt.

I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Whether you are someone that has anxiety or knows someone that does this book with be a guiding light. 5 stars

Thank you to Becky Thompson, NetGalley, and WaterBrookMultomoh for the advanced reader copy.

The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere

The Christmas Table is book 10 of Donna VanLiere’s Christmas Hope series and I am proud to admit I have read them all!! Loved them all!! Cried through every single one. Imagine everything that makes a Hallmark type movie in a delightful book with beautiful writing and characters you want more of. Each book builds on the one before but can also stand alone as VanLiere reintroduces them in a subtle way that feels natural and doesn’t distract from the story line.

VanLiere takes us back to 1972 to start the story of a set of recipes stashed in a homemade kitchen table. The table was built by a hard working husband that desired to give his wife a place to serve her family and friends but would also serve as piece of family history. What the husband didn’t see coming was tragedy and illness that could threaten to destroy the future he imagined for the table and his family. Shift to modern day and the table resurfaces when a newly wed couple needs a place eat as a growing family. The new wife finds the recipes in a hidden drawer. For both families the recipes provided a way to connect with the past and provide the wives of ’72 and present with the instructions on providing for their family through delicious meals but also life lessons and stories of family. In perfect Christmas Hope fashion the recipes will find a way to reunite the past and present and give the reader the perfect Christmas miracle and story of hope.

This year more than ever I needed a story like this. I needed to cry because things do work out sometimes and there is a happy ending.

I gave The Christmas Table five stars because a book that brings ever emotion gets every star.

Thank you Netgalley, Donna VanLiere and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Return by Nicholas Sparks

I am an avid Nicholas Sparks reader. I can’t help it. A new title drops and I have to grab it. Sparks newest book did not disappoint. It’s amazing to me that I could read a Sparks book with out knowing he wrote it and recognize the author immediately, his writing style is consistent and familiar. I know many people consider Spark’s books to fall under romance but I would say that while there is definitely romance within his plots, there is always so much more.

In The Return, readers find romance but not an easy one. Before there is love there is so much pain and unknown paths and not sures. There is the family aspect that is a classic Sparks theme and the helping of strangers.

Trevor Benson is a veteran of the War on Terrorism and with his visible and not so visible injuries he finds himself in his mom’s home town of New Bern, NC to handle the affairs of late grandfather. Immediately upon arriving in town he notices a young girl, Callie, that clearly had a part in his grandfather’s life but Trevor isn’t sure just how involved until later in his uncovering the mystery that surrounded why his grandfather died in a town no one knew he was in. Trevor notices another woman in town, Sheriff Deputy Natalie Masterson and it just might be love at first sight. Natalie has a past that she isn’t prepared to share with Trevor because she thinks she might also love him. Trevor only came to town to take care of what his family left behind but he finds so much more including a place to heal and help others in their own healing journey.

I gave The Return **** and I can’t wait for Nicholas’s next book (not that I know there is one, just hoping)